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Providing Meaningful Feedback

We hear the word “feedback” a lot. If it feels like it’s just another word for criticism, this simply isn’t the case. Providing a measured and thoughtful assessment of someone’s work or overall performance should be perceived as helpful, supportive and—most of all—instructive.

Managers who see an employee more as a protégé, and view their relationship more as a mentor and mentee arrangement, tend to be more productive, deliver more value to the organization, and are more satisfied in their jobs.

So, how do you deliver meaningful feedback? Start by thinking of feedback as a teachable moment. You’re an instructor whose aim is to provide direction to a student. The goal is to assist those learning under your guidance by encouraging their unique talents and helping them develop industry-specific skills. What you’re looking for in providing feedback is growth and improvement, not perfection. Feedback is part of an ongoing process, it’s not an end in and of itself.

Tips for providing meaningful feedback:

 Begin with the positive and follow with suggested improvements.Starting with the negative will only put the recipient on the defense. Start your feedback with a compliment or other positive statement and follow it with not only criticism, but also advice on how to correct or improve what was critiqued.

Be compassionate and sensitive. Some individuals may be nervous, others defensive. Put the recipient of your feedback at ease with your open and friendly demeanor.

Tie feedback to targets and goals. There’s nothing more discouraging than trying to read the boss’s mind. With specific, measurable goals and strategy for development employees understand what’s expected of them. They will appreciate it.

Be specific. It’s hard for someone to process and make improvements based on generalities. Make your expectations for the end result clear.

Peer review can be an effective adjunct to a one-on-one review.Knowing how others on the team perceive the end product can be a helpful part of the review process. That said, all employees should understand that the effectiveness of their performance is ultimately determined by you, the manager.

Schedule regular reviews. Feedback should not come once a year with a performance review. It should be provided regularly, in both formal and informal settings.

Feedback outside of structured assessments. Feedback is an important part of the typical business day. When you see the opportunity for that teachable moment, don’t delay. Feedback must be timely to be effective. Remember to be positive, yet liberal with your feedback.

Beware of turning feedback into a confrontation. Criticizing an employee in front of his or her peers, even when well intentioned, can be very awkward and embarrassing for the employee and peers alike. Avoid hallway conversations or a public, “I need to see you in my office immediately.” Remember you’re looking to improve and help the individual succeed.

Provide feedback in small quantities. Daily feedback helps to keep the recipient on track and focused on agreed goals; however, you must take care not to overwhelm. If observed behavior or current work issues are not detrimental in the moment, save them for scheduled reviews.

Base feedback on hard data using soft skills. When feedback is less than positive, set a timeframe for improvement. Leaving goals for improvement open-ended gives the impression you’re not serious. Offer encouragement and be willing to assist. If the individual you’re working with is less than enthusiastic, address their attitude. Let them know you’re willing to work with them only if they are invested in their own success.

 Feedback is not a checklist, it’s a discussion, a conversation, a professional dialogue. Make time for the individual to respond. Effective feedback should motivate, encourage change and improvement, and ultimately improve the quality of work produced.